At-Risk Workers Shouldn’t Lose Unemployment

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kelly Allen, WVCBP 304-612-4180 or Eli Baumwell, ACLU 607-279-9057

WV Groups Respond to Governor’s Comments at Today’s COVID briefing

Charleston, WV – Below is the response of the majority of the groups to governor Justice’s remarks today when asked about their letter concerning at risk workers:

“As Governor Justice often reminds us, West Virginia has the largest share of its population in the country who is at risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. The governor has been a leader in protecting vulnerable populations throughout this crisis, and it’s disappointing to hear him dismiss the concerns around continuing to protect these populations as the state begins to reopen. Among the groups that signed onto this letter are frontline service and health workers, communities of color, and disability rights groups, all of whom represent populations that are themselves at elevated risk or who have family members at risk of serious illness due to underlying medical conditions.”

“The governor has the authority and the obligation to protect at-risk workers from being forced into work situations which put them at significant risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. West Virginia code states that a person is not disqualified for unemployment insurance benefits if they leave their employment for health reasons, including a condition that could be worsened or aggravated by work. We’re also asking for more transparency out of WorkForce WV, including that the agency publicly release the conditions their office is using to determine suitable work during the COVID-19 crisis.

Our intention is to work with the Justice Administration and WorkForce WV to ensure that at-risk workers are not forced to choose between their health and their finances. Public health is not a political issue.” 

Our original letter to Governor Justice and WorkForce WV can be found here.

Governor’s remarks can be viewed in this media tweet:


For Immediate Release

May 12, 2020                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Contact: Kelly Allen, WVCBP 304-612-4180 or Eli Baumwell, ACLU 607-279-9057

Groups Call on Governor & Workforce WV to Protect At-Risk Workers as WV Reopens

Charleston, WV – Today a broad spectrum of TWENTY legal, social justice, labor and faith groups released a letter sent to governor Justice, Commerce Secretary Gaunch, and Workforce WV asking them to use both their emergency and regular powers to protect workers from losing unemployment if they or family members are at risk due to COVID-19 and they decline to immediately return to work when their employers reopen.

“Workers shouldn’t have to choose between getting sick or bringing home the virus to expose at risk family and continuing to have the income needed to buy food and keep their housing intact,” asserted Gary Zuckett, Executive Director of WV Citizen Action, “The Justice administration has the power under current state laws and emergency rules to keep this from happening.”

The letter outlines several concerns and documents remedies that could be used to protect workers from having to immediately re-enter the workforce if they are at risk: 

  1. Confirm that individuals with health conditions that put them at risk for complications due to COVID-19 are entitled to unemployment benefits if they leave or turn down work that risks exposure.
  2. Allow individuals who live with at-risk individuals to continue to collect unemployment if they turn down or leave work that risks exposure.
  3. Publicly release the conditions being used by WorkForce WV to determine suitable work during the COVID-19 crisis.
  4. Ensure that the Commissioner is engaged in individualized assessments of suitability, taking into account the individual’s health, safety, and morals.
  5. Issue a statement declaring it a public policy of West Virginia for employers to provide employees with safe workplaces in accordance with OSHA/HHS guidelines.
  6. Take proactive steps to educate employees and employers about unemployment options during this crisis.

“As our state begins to slowly reopen, we must maintain the protections for at-risk workers and their family members who are at a heightened risk for complications from COVID-19. Just as business owners have the choice to reopen or to remain closed due to safety considerations, individual workers should be able to make that same determination for themselves, particularly if they are at elevated risk due to age or underlying health conditions,” said Kelly Allen of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

The letter was sent to the governor and state officials and signed by the following groups:

American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia

American Friends Service Committee

Call to Action for Racial Equality

Disability Rights WV

Fair Shake Network

Mountain State Justice

Mark Federici, President, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 400, International Vice President NAACP WV

NAACP Charleston

National Association of Social Workers West Virginia

Our Future West Virginia

Rise Up WV


West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

West Virginia Citizen Action Group

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care

West Virginia Working Families Party

WV Developmental Disabilities Council




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